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Panic Bars: Why Your Business May Need Them

In most commercial spaces, such as college campuses, hospitals, and other locations where a lot of people congregate, it is likely you have noticed special handles on the interior side of the doors in these spaces. For most business, these devices are a requirement. These lock devices are known as panic bars. It is likely you have seen them on both emergency exit doors and public exit doors leading out of certain buildings. These seemingly inconspicuous devices are actually critical for helping maintain peaceful evacuations in the event of a fire or other disaster that calls for a quick evacuation. Panic bars come in a few different styles.

For the most part, however, they all operate the same way and serve the same purpose. To use a panic bar, one simply has to push in a metal bar towards the door in order for it to swing open with ease. In comparison to traditional doorknobs, there is no twisting of a handle or heavy lifting required to get the door open. Panic Bar History: Why they Were Invented As with most great inventions, the panic bar was created to solve a very important problem. Prior to the implementation of panic bars and the safety requirements that all business must adhere to, worldwide building safety regulations proved to be useless -- if they existed at all. A series of tragic and preventable events occurred between the late 1800s and early 1900s that not only inspired the creation of the panic bar, but an overhaul of international building safety laws entirely.

The first notable event in history that signaled a major problem with occupancy and building safety regulations took place in 1883 in Sunderland, England. 183 children perished following a theater performance that year after a stampede broke out near the back of the theater by the only exit. A malfunction in the door caused it to remain open only enough so that one child could pass through at a time. It was after this tragedy that the British government began implementing stricter building safety regulations. At the same time, Robert Alexander Briggs went on to invent the panic bolt as a response to the Sunderland disaster. In the United States, two similar tragedies occurred that eventually led to the full societal outcry for better international building safety regulations. In 1903 in Chicago, Illinois, the Iroquois Theatre caught fire after a stage curtain went up in flames unexpectedly during a matinee performance. The theater had already been filled far beyond capacity, so when the fire started to spread, hundreds of people were left trapped inside and unable to reach the only entrance in and out of the theater. The final incident occurred in Collinwood, Ohio in 1908 at Lake View School. As with the Iroquois Theatre fire, Lake View School experienced similar, devastating conditions on that fateful day. After a fire broke out in the school and blocked one of the schools only two entrances, students and faculty found themselves trapped inside. To this day, the Lake View School fire is one of the deadliest school fires in United States history.

The culmination of these events sparked major changes in international and national building safety regulations, including the need for panic bars. Had panic bars been present in these three scenarios, in addition to a great number of emergency exits, it is likely that more lives would have been saved. Occupancy Laws for Panic Bars While panic bars are great devices that can help save lives and make evacuation of a given building much more efficient, not all businesses meet the requirements needed for mandatory panic bar installations. Depending on the size of your building, the number of individuals inside at any given time, as well as the types of materials that are handled on-site, you may exempt from panic bar installations. Typically, you can count on needing to have panic bars installed in your building if there is an occupancy load of 50 or more people.

Occupancy loads are determined by a couple of different factors, so even if your building has an occupancy load of less than 50 individuals, you may still be required to have panic bars installed, depending on the actual square footage of your building, the number of exits, and other factors. Certain businesses will always need to have panic bars installed, regardless of how many individuals may be in the building at any given time. This regulation most often applies to businesses or commercial spaces that deal with hazardous or dangerous materials. For example, spaces that hold equipment that contains more than 600 volts of power, less than 600 volts but has more than 800 amps of capacity, and any battery rooms are required to have panic bars present. Work with a Local Expert for Additional Information If you are still unsure as to whether or not panic bars are a legal requirement for your business or commercial space, it is best to contact an expert. There are other exceptions you will need to be aware of when it comes to panic bars that may specifically apply to your business. It is recommended that you set up a consultation with a local locksmith in order to properly determine whether or not panic bar installations are needed and which models may benefit your business best. Contact a Professional in Shawnee!